October 9, 2015

TMSF responsible for Digiturk ban on TV channels

Turhan Bozkurt

The palace and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government took preposterous steps to silence those newspapers and TV channels seeking to speak the truth.

They are trying to impose restrictions on freedom of the press in an attempt to win back political power in the election slated for Nov. 1.

To this end, they made Türk Telekom, Turkcell and recently Digiturk remove seven critical TV channels from their platforms. We weren't surprised by the timing of this act of unlawfulness that is reminiscent of postmodern censorship as it came only 23 days before the snap election. In this way, they are apparently trying to prevent 3.5 million subscribers from receiving accurate news reporting from Samanyolu Haber, Bugün TV, Mehtap, Irmak, Samanyolu and Kanaltürk. Out of fear, they even censored the children's channel Yumurcak, which is famous for Caillou, an animation character from Canada popular among toddlers. This amounts to a flagrant violation of constitutional rights and freedoms, such as the right to information, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of contract and which is, by all means, scandalous. That a prosecutor has issued an instruction to effect this censorship at night without any court order is not something that can be tolerated or condoned.

The perpetrator of this scandal decision is the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). Having confiscated Digiturk from Mehmet Emin Karamehmet in March 2013, the TMSF still owns it. Despite the fact that TMSF head Şakir Ercan Gül had said on July 15, 2015 that Digiturk was sold to a Qatari firm, Digiturk is still under the control of the TMSF. According to records in the Trade Register, the TMSF's lien on Digiturk has not yet been released. There have been six transactions concerning Digiturk since it was confiscated in 2013. And these transactions do not include any general assembly meeting or transfer of shares.

Mehmet Ali İslamoğlu is the president of Digiturk's executive board. A former inspector for the Finance Ministry who reportedly laundered money for Yasin al-Qadi, İslamoğlu is also the head of the occupying management appointed by the TMSF to Bank Asya on Feb. 3. TMSF department head Abdullah Güzeldülger -- a member of Bank Asya's executive board -- is also a member of Digiturk's executive board. At Digiturk, these two people were given privileged authorities.

The TMSF should forgive me for my curiosity, but I would like to ask: Didn't BeIN Media Group, part of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, took over management of Digiturk? If Digiturk's management was handed over to the Qatari firm, why are the individuals assigned by the TMSF still at work with great powers? It is obvious the TMSF continues to strictly control Digiturk.

İslamoğlu, appointed by the TMSF, cannot act alone in deciding to censor seven TV channels. It is nonsensical to argue that such a decision with political consequences was given without approval from TMSF President Gül. Before flying to Japan, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said these channels were still broadcasting, and immediately after those remarks, the seven channels were removed from Digiturk. Isn't this significant? This decision is a disgrace in the history of Turkish media and lacks any legal basis as it was made with political motivations.

Let this be a reminder to those violating the law: You will be called to account for the violations at Digiturk. Karamehmet holds a 53 percent share in Digiturk. The rest belongs to US-based fund Providence Equity. The TMSF president talks about the sale, but not about the price. It was only said Digiturk was confiscated in return for Çukurova Holding's debts to the state. The price should be disclosed so that the nation can learn about the sum of those debts. The sale had suspiciously been conducted without any public tender. As the price is concealed, we are convinced the sale is virtual.

Prohibition of more than 50 percent of shares to a foreign firm

In addition, it should be noted that such a sale violates the provisions of the Law on the Establishment of Radio and Television Enterprises and their Media Services. This law prohibits any foreign firm from buying more than 50 percent of the shares of any TV channel. Previously, the limit was 25 percent. Apparently unsatisfied with this, the AKP raised it to the current value in 2011. The Qatari firm's purchase of 53 percent of Digiturk despite this legal prohibition needs to be explained. I don't think they overlooked this small detail while negotiations with the Qatari firm were under way. If there is no legal obstacle, why don't they clarify the amount of the sale? If the sale has already been made, why is it not recorded in the Trade Register? Do you expect us to believe the lie "It was the Qatari entrepreneur who removed the TV channels" despite the many shadowy transactions? Even if you continue like this or reveal the transfer of shares, you cannot dispel the doubts about Digiturk. In any case, the legal responsibility for the tender and censorship belongs to the TMSF.

The AKP and the palace are not satisfied merely with having so many pro-government papers as their mouthpieces. The results of the June 7 election are clear. They lost 10 percent of their electoral support. They acknowledge they failed to set the agenda with dozens of discredited newspapers and TV channels. Therefore, they had no choice but to silence reputed newspapers and TV channels. Here, the TMSF serves as a good key. With its extensive powers, the TMSF is hunting for media bosses.

The Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the Grand Unity Party (BBP), the Felicity Party (SP) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) should closely monitor the TMSF's activities. Bank Asya's occupation and Digiturk's censorship should be seen as part of the AKP's efforts to homogenize the media environment. As the sledgehammer called the TMSF falls on the media, you cannot talk about a fair and transparent election. The TMSF -- and the AKP -- will not release the switch on the media until the lost power is taken back. The AKP is quite satisfied with using the TMSF guise for employing pro-government writers. I repeat: The TMSF is an instrument for the government's monopoly on freedom of expression.

Published on Today's Zaman, 8 October 2015, Thursday